Belfast Telegraph

Belfast man with PTSD says brutal attack has left him homeless and without a job

Gerard Peter McKenna who suffers from PTSD symptoms stemming from a violent attack that left him in a six-day coma
Gerard Peter McKenna who suffers from PTSD symptoms stemming from a violent attack that left him in a six-day coma

By Gillian Halliday

A man who suffers from PTSD after a violent attack that left him in a coma has said he feels "abandoned" by the authorities after he ended up homeless.

Gerard Peter McKenna (30), a full-time student, was the victim of a brutal assault in the summer of 2018 which has left him suffering from anxiety and depression.

In June his attacker, Christopher Mark Mitchell (28), received a 16-month sentence at Belfast Crown Court after he admitted causing grievous bodily harm to Mr McKenna and assaulting a police officer.

Mitchell was given six months' imprisonment,followed by 10 months out on licence.

During the incident, Mitchell picked up his former friend by the throat and threw him against a wall.

The court heard Mr McKenna was also punched, causing his head to hit a wall, leaving him with a bleed on the brain, and was in a medically-induced coma in hospital for six days.

The former chef told the Belfast Telegraph the attack has negatively affected every aspect of his life, including his relationship, which broke down last Friday, resulting in him having nowhere to live.

"I've been walking the streets of Belfast at night," he revealed.

Since Monday he has been "relying on the kindness of strangers" and managed to get a temporary roof over his head for two nights.

He said he is still struggling to cope with what happened to him over a year later.

"The only reason I'm sitting here is testament to my own motivation to get fit again and a lot of luck," he said.

"The first responders and the consultants told me there was a 30-second window from my injuries to brain death.

"It was all on my frontal left lobe, the injuries, your speech, your language, your personality.

"I was in a medically-induced coma for six days. I had a skull fracture and a bleed down the left hand side of my brain.

"The blood's still there and I had swelling from an eye socket fracture, and had two fractures in the spine."

He was unable to work for six months, which cost him his job as a head chef, a role he had just taken on before the attack.

Financial pressures resulted in him losing his private rental last autumn. However, at the start of the year the situation appeared to improve when he started a new chef job, but Mr McKenna said the physical and emotional impact of the attack meant it didn't work out.

"I've had three breakdowns. My back is now permanently damaged due to injuries to the spine. I've got chronic pain and an ongoing diagnosis of PTSD, anxiety and depression," he said.

Following the attack he attended six weekly sessions of counselling, but is still waiting for compensation.

His focus now is to find new accommodation after presenting himself to the Housing Executive, which has offered him emergency accommodation in a number of hostels.

However, the former chef - who is hoping to start university next year to study astrophysics - insists he felt he had no choice but to turn down the offers, because of safety fears and his PTSD symptoms which make him feel hyper-vigilant at all times.

"I just don't think it would be appropriate. PTSD feels absolutely horrific. I get a sort of pressure on my chest and since all of this has happened, it's there all the time," he revealed.

"I can't relax and I can't have people coming up behind me."

Mr McKenna is also in the process of getting Universal Credit, which he said will provide him with housing benefit but not money for living costs as he is a full-time student.

"I won't know until October 18 what I'm entitled to," he added.

He said his experience of the welfare system so far has left him feeling "totally disillusioned".

"I'm gobsmacked that anybody could be treated like this. I've worked full-time for 13, 14 years. I started working once I left school, starting as a kitchen porter," he said.

"I've paid into the system. I was the victim of a violent assault. I just need help."

In response, a spokesperson for the Housing Executive said it has done its "utmost to help this applicant" with staff engaging with Mr McKenna at his assessment on Monday morning.

"Later that day, he was offered temporary accommodations in different locations in Belfast, but these offers were refused," the spokesperson continued.

"Should he require temporary accommodation this can be made available to him if he decides to re-engage with our staff."

Meanwhile, the Department for Communities, which oversees Universal Credit, said it does not comment on individual cases but confirmed it was engaging with Mr McKenna to provide support.

"Being homeless or at risk of becoming homeless is not a barrier to making a claim for Universal Credit," said a spokesperson.

"There is a range of tailored support available to assist vulnerable claimants to make and maintain their Universal Credit claim. Not having a fixed place of residence does not prevent a customer from making a claim."

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